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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More ups and downs in Isabel's life, 3 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: The Charming Quirks Of Others (Isabel Dalhousie Novels) (Hardcover)
This is the seventh book in the series featuring philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and, having read the previous six with pleasure, I knew what to expect with this latest slice of her life. I think the latter will be more enjoyable if you've read the earlier books as there's quite a bit of back story that only briefly touch upon in this book, for example, Isabel is living with, and has a child by, Jamie, who previously had a relationship with her niece but this is only glancingly referred to.

Alexander McCall Smith doesn't expose his readers to the gritty realism of, say, Ian Rankin's Edinburgh, but instead gives a slice of the comfortable world of middle-class life in Edinburgh. A city I know very well, and familiarity with the shops, streets and some of the people mentioned in the stories makes the books all the more enjoyable. However, the books are not just about Isabel's day to day life with her partner, Jamie, their son, Charlie and her interactions with her niece, Cat, and the latter's series of men-friends, but unobtrusively, the author weaves in philosophizing about moral dilemmas that Isabel encounters. I have to admit that usually I don't have much time for philosophy, but McCall Smith is very deft at making these issues accessible and interesting. In each book Isabel tackles moral dilemmas in her life and gets asked to engage in some private detective work: not murders, but usually something involving personal relationships with a moral dimension.

In this book Isabel is approached by the wife of the chairman of a committee convened to choose a new headmaster for a boarding school near Edinburgh. There's been an anonymous letter hinting at some impropriety by one of the three candidates and the wife asks Isabel to investigate, discreetly. This task creates a number of dilemmas for her. Meanwhile, she also has to carry out her work as editor of the journal Review of Applied Ethics. Her old adversaries in the world of philosophy, Professors Dove and Lettuce, figure again in this book as the former has written a book and the latter intends to review it and assumes that Isabel will publish what he writes without her inviting him to do so. She is not pleased as the situation presents her with yet another dilemma!

More troubles heap on Isabel when a fellow musician of Jamie starts to pursue him. This situation provides yet more moral choices for Isabel. I've come to realize from this series and his Scotland Street novels that although the author sometimes puts his main characters in peril they don't, in the end, suffer: leaving the reader feeling happy and content and that all in right in the World.

I don't know if the author will be able to keep up our interest in Isabel as he may have exhausted all the moral dilemmas that a middle-class lady in Edinburgh can plausibly encounter. I hope he can as his kindly and humane books are an antidote to all the crime fiction I read.
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